The Justice Department announced Monday that it will be tightening its policies and procedures for obtaining records of U.S. lawmakers, after it emerged that the department under the Trump administration obtained records from Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee.
“As I stated during my confirmation hearing, political or other improper considerations must play no role in any investigative or prosecutorial decisions,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. “These principles that have long been held as sacrosanct by the DOJ career workforce will be vigorously guarded on my watch, and any failure to live up to them will be met with strict accountability.”
“Consistent with our commitment to the rule of law, we must ensure that full weight is accorded to separation-of-powers concerns moving forward,” Garland added.
Garland’s statement comes as the department faces backlash, after The New York Times first reported on June 10 that prosecutors in the DOJ under the Trump administration had issued subpoenas to Apple in 2017 and 2018 seeking data from people associated with the House Intelligence Committee, as part of a probe to find out who was behind leaks of classified information related to the Russia investigation and other national-security issues.
Last month, Apple reportedly notified at least 12 people that they were being investigated via the grand jury subpoenas the DOJ had issued. Among them were Trump critics Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), now the committee’s chair, and Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), a committee member, as well as their aides and family members. According to the NY Times, the data Apple provided didn’t establish any ties between the California politicians and the leaks.
Lawmakers didn’t know they were being investigated until Apple informed them last month, after a gag order on the company secured by the DOJ had expired this year.
Schiff called for an Inspector General inquiry on June 10, and accused former President Donald Trump of having “repeatedly and flagrantly demanded that the Department of Justice carry out his political will, and tried to use the department as a cudgel against his political opponents and members of the media.”
In a June 10 statement, Swalwell confirmed that his Apple data was seized; he echoed Schiff’s call for an OIG investigation.
Separately on June 11, two Senate Democrats—Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)—demanded that two former U.S. attorneys general, William Barr and Jeff Sessions, testify before Congress about the reported subpoenas of records, or else face a subpoena.
On Friday, Inspector General Michael Horowitz said he directed his office to launch a review into use of subpoenas under the previous administration and to determine whether those decisions were driven by “improper considerations.”
“There are important questions that must be resolved in connection with an effort by the department to obtain records related to members of Congress and congressional staff,” Garland added.
House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) has also said the panel will open a formal investigation into the matter.
Mimi Nguyen Ly contributed to this report.